Social Contract

Underlying free societies in western Europe and North America is the "Social Contract". This concept is defined by various constitutions and bills of rights and describes the relationship between the government and the citizens. The Social Contract can be summed up in one statement: Citizens will live their lives as they wish, unfettered or restricted by government, as long as their activities do not have a negative impact on other peoples' rights to live as they wish, and government will enact no laws which unreasonably restrict the activities of the citizenry. This is the philosophy which is generally called conservative. This provides us with a litmus test of all activities, whether by the government or the citizens. There are two basic types of laws, which I will label as "Natural" and "Regulatory". Laws prohibiting direct harm to others, such as assault, murder, rape, theft etc. are Natural Laws. Content labelling, speed limits etc. are Regulatory Laws. One way to differentiate the two is to imagine a spaceman who observes our activities. While it would be easy for the spaceman to understand the laws against assault, a Natural law, it would be impossible for him to know that cigarette smoking is legal, while pot smoking is not (Regulatory Law). Both are smoking and neither affects others directly. When a government proclaims regulatory laws, they are limiting individual freedom. As such, they void the social contract. This can only be maintained so long as the citizens agree with these limitations. All drivers understand the need for rules of the road, so they do not challenge their legality, as without the rules there would be carnage on the roads and innocent people would be hurt. By comparison, when people ignore the rules against drug use, the only potential carnage is to themselves, not to others. It is worthwhile to note that even with commonly supported laws such as speed limits, there are restrictions on the law, otherwise off-road racing such as at a racetrack would also be illegal. This is seen by the public as appropriate even though legal racing kills people every year. When a law is passed, it is meant to address some "Harm" in society. By harm is meant that some human activity is having a negative impact on the lives of others. If there is, indeed a harm, and the law solves the problem, then it is a good law. If however, there is no harm, in other words, if peoples' activities are having a minimal negative impact on the lives of others, or if the harm is not solved by the law, then the law is a bad one. It is bad because it voids the social contract in some area, thus limiting personal freedom while not solving any problems. Such bad laws, because they violate the social contract and do not correct a harm, are unreasonable by definition. Therefore, they fail the litmus test and must be overturned. The underlying support for such bad laws inevitably is "People Should". We formerly restricted store openings on Sunday, because "People Should Go To Church, and The Bible Says To Take The Sabbath Off, so Everyone Must Take Sunday Off." When it was pointed out that this was an unreasonable restriction on freedom and that there is an obvious religious conflict, the laws were overturned. We must always be on guard against the "Shoulders" who would tell us how to live our lives, from attending their church to eating their choice of foods, wearing their choice of clothing, painting your house their color choice, etc. etc. Laws made in response to the Shoulders will inevitably lack general support, leading people to ignore the law. Laws against personal drug use were put in place initially because of lies concerning harms arising from their use, and are maintained because of the Shoulders (People Should be able to live without drugs). They also fail the litmus test. They restrict peoples' freedoms and fail to reduce drug use. Indeed, the evidence supporting the supposed harms caused by drug use are inconclusive, and this also speaks to the lack of reasonableness of these laws. The net result for society is more, rather than less, harm. It is impossible not to conclude that it is because these laws are fundamentally wrong that this increase in harms is happening. The only way to reduce the overall harm to society caused by drug use is to legalize and regulate drug distribution. How the system will work is open for discussion (prescription heroin for example) but the basic issue is not. For any government to be maintaining these bad laws with today's understanding of how prohibition doesn't work is inconsolable. For a government which calls itself conservative to do so is first order hypocricy.
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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